MHA | How should charities use social media?

How should charities use social media?

Posted on: October 2nd 2023 · read

How should charities use social media

After a formal consultation which ran from January to March 2023, the Charity Commission have released their ‘Charities and social media’ guidance.

The guidance highlights the importance of social media and how, if used effectively, it can be a very powerful tool for charities helping them raise awareness of its activities, raise funds and engage with beneficiaries. However, social media also introduces risks, with the posting of content potentially harming a charity’s reputation; content can also be difficult to remove once it has been posted.

The guidance makes clear that if a charity uses social media, it is responsible for:

  • agreeing and putting in place a social media policy so that it has internal controls that are appropriate and proportionate for the charity’s needs and which are clear to everyone at the charity using social media;
  • ensuring its social media policy is regularly reviewed to check it is working effectively and fits the charity’s needs;
  • ensuring the charity’s social media use helps it achieve its purpose and in a way that is in its best interests
  • complying with relevant laws
  • ensuring any campaigning or political activity that it performs on social media complies with the rules on political activity and campaigning (noting the relevant CC9 guidance)
  • ensuring its processes help it keep people safe online including any extra considerations when dealing with vulnerable users.

The primary focus of the guidance arguably surrounds that of a social media policy; details are given on how important it is to have clear guidelines for staff using social media on behalf of the charity, how to engage with the public on social media, and how having a policy will allow users to direct their use of social media in a way that benefits the charity. However, determining the purpose of, and setting any new policy can often be a difficult task, and so the Commission have included in the guidance a checklist for developing a social media policy. Furthermore, CharityComms, the membership organisation for charity communications professionals, have produced a social media policy template to assist charities looking to implement such a policy.

The guidance also highlights associated topics such as managing the potential risks of social media use, how to engage on emotive topics, campaigning or political activity on social media, and fundraising on social media. For example, when a charity uses social media to fundraise, they should consider the relevant legal rules (set out in the Code of Fundraising Practice) and how any potential criticism of a campaign might be amplified through social media. Charities should also be aware of the VAT risks of fundraising on social media under the reverse charge regulations.

In acknowledgement that some charity trustees may not use social media regularly, the guidance also signposts the Commission’s online resources and events to help improve social media literacy. Trustees should try and be aware of the risks of using social media and how their legal duties apply in relation to such risks. So, when it comes to posting content online, trustees should be aware of their duty to act responsibly and in line with the best interests of their charity. This means that the reputation of a charity will not be threatened by the use of social media and instead can help the charity meet its objectives in a positive way.

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This insight was previously published in our Not for Profit October 2023 eNews

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